For many students coming to college, signing an apartment lease is one of the first independent, adult decisions they can make. Unfortunately, it is also an expensive process riddled with pitfalls, that often leave students feeling like they had been taken advantage of.
Design junior Florence Kamp ended up going to UT Legal Services for Students in the Office of Students after not receiving her security deposit after she had moved out of her previous apartment. In her consultation, the center’s attorneys went over her original lease with her and pointed out aspects of her lease that she should have caught beforehand — like the fact that she was being charged for normal wear-and-tear of the apartment.
“At the time, I didn’t know what my resources were,” Kamp said. “So when I’m signing the lease I skim through it, because I know I need to look through it. But I didn’t know what to look for, I didn’t know what the red flags are.”
UT has some resources available for students attempting to navigate the rental process, including an example rental contract and a link to the Texas Workforce Commission for students to submit complaints about suspected discriminatory housing practices. UT Legal Services for Students in the Office of Students, too, has consolidated information online about leases, insurance and eviction.
But this isn’t nearly enough. The vast majority of students sign before consulting these resources, especially as the high student demand for apartment spaces in West Campus and Riverside pressures students to sign leases quickly. Lack of leasing education means that once they sign, apartment properties can much more easily take advantage of these students.
“Educate students and make them aware of the resources they have to understand when they’re being taken advantage of by apartment properties,” Kamp says. “Give them the power to stand up for themselves and bring some awareness for the next student who does lease with that property.”
Moreover, as rents rise in West Campus and Riverside alike, students struggle with finding affording housing. Design junior Leonel Martinez, who is working on a human-centered design project focused on affordable housing for students, said that much of the problem for students finding affordable housing was the information gap. Austin-wide programs that provide affordable housing for students exist, including S.M.A.R.T Housing, although the limited nature of their programs mean that they are not well publicized.
“The problem is students not knowing if they are being ripped off, or not knowing if their lease is the best offer they will get,” Martinez said. “Students are often treated like second-class, and they are looked down upon in the process.”
UT has the opportunity to make the housing process significantly more accessible for all students by consolidating information about affordable housing options, as well as educating and publicizing their resources on common lease red-flags to avoid. By simply letting students know that these resources are available — either by emails or social media posts — before and during the months where the most students are signing leases, the university could help students make better choices and avoid common mistakes.
Given that most students will need to find a place to live off campus — if not during their time at university, then after they graduate into the real world — such a resource can equip students with the knowledge they need to traverse the housing situations that they will inevitably confront.
Nemawarkar is a Plan II and government junior from Austin.